Warren County once had one of New York’s most well-attended county fairs. In 1877, the Pottersville Fair (also known as the Glendale Fair) was established by the Faxon family, one of the Town of Chester’s leading families and owners of Chester’s largest employer, a tannery.
The fair was immediately popular, not so much for its agricultural exhibits – there generally weren’t any – but for its gambling opportunities. For thirty years gambling was the main attraction at the fair, and horse racing the main event. In 1897, the fair advertised “a fine program of races consisting of trotting and pacing, running, bicycle, and foot races in which liberal purses and prizes are offered.” 7,000 people attended the Pottersville Fair on a single day in 1913. Now there is a move afoot to revitalize the Warren County Fair (since moved to Schroon River Road in Warrensburg), which has suffered a series of setbacks that have made it one of the poorest attended County Fairs in the state. » Continue Reading.
Three Lake George environmental conservation groups have released a final design for the West Brook Gaslight Village Project, a stormwater treatment system that will be located on the parcel on the south side of West Brook. Dubbed the “West Brook Conservation Initiative,” the Lake George Association, the FUND for Lake George and the Lake George Land Conservancy, have been working together to develop the project under the terms of a conservation easement they jointly hold with three municipal partners: the town and the village of Lake George, and Warren County.
The final plan includes restored wetlands and an environmental park that will be built on 4.9 acres south of West Brook Road where the Charley’s Saloon building stands south of the former Gaslight Village. The entire 12-acre project represents one of the most important conservation efforts in Lake George’s history, according to advocates. Designed by the Chazen Companies, the plan for the south parcel of the property will restore wetlands to naturally slow stormwater generated from the Route 9 corridor and adjoining properties, capture sediment and filter pollutants which currently make there way to a growing delta at the mouth of West Brook. Due to the filling of historic wetlands, channeling of the stream, and development in the stream’s watershed, West Brook today is the single largest source of contaminant — pollution, nutrients and sediment — entering the south basin of Lake George. The delta at the mouth of the brook has grown to over 7,000 square meters. The land was once part of the Delaware & Hudson Railroad Yards, and later a string of attractions related to the property next door which housed Gaslight Village from 1959 to 1989.
The project will feature a settling pond to trap and retain sediment, a shallow marsh where wetland plantings will store and treat run-off, and a gravel wetland where dense root mats, crushed stone and a microbe rich environment will improve the water quality before it is conveyed to West Brook. Environmental engineers believe that the best way to treat stormwater is through natural processes of wetlands, where water is captured and retained for a period of time and allowing sediment and nutrients to be dropped out as the water is cleansed.
Project engineers estimate that 90% of the sediment will be successfully treated by this system and over one-half of the nutrients will be removed. The wetland systems are designed to also provide an open environmental park, with interpretative signage, nature trails, elevated walkways, a pavilion, an outdoor classroom, gazebo, overlooks and picnic areas for the general public.
”This project will capture and treat millions of gallons of stormwater that annually flow into the lake untreated,” Peter Bauer, executive director of the FUND for Lake George, said. The project has been carefully designed to require minimal or no maintenance according to Bauer including the use of drought resistant meadow-like grasses will require no mowing, watering or fertilizing. Minimal mowing is expected to be necessary in selected areas close to West Brook Road for aesthetic purposes, although the grass seed to be used there is a mix of fescues that will produce a low-growing and drought tolerant grass. New native plants, shrubs and trees will require little or no weeding, pruning or fertilizing. Periodically – after a few years of maturity – the wetland plantings will need to be thinned and excess plant materials removed.
Some $200,000 in state and federal funding will be used to complete the construction of the project, but money is still needed to repay for the land. In addition to the $2.1 million loan on the Gaslight Village purchase by the LGA and the FUND, the Lake George Land Conservancy is carrying a $2.7 million loan on the 1,400-acre Berry Pond tract, which protects the upland watershed for West Brook.
Demolition of Charley’s Saloon is expected to begin in mid-June, following the conclusion of Americade; construction of the storm water management complex will begin after the Adirondack Nationals Car Show in early September.
Warren County’s Supervisors may be wavering on whether to preserve or condemn the two buildings that remain standing at Gaslight Village, but the time for a decision is fast approaching.
A $200,000 grant has been awarded to the three environmental organizations that own an easement on all but 2.5 acres of the Lake George property to demolish Charleys Saloon and some smaller structures this summer, and the county must decide whether it wants that grant to also pay for the demolition of Gaslight Village. “I know there will be unhappy people whichever way we go,” said Supervisor Bill Kenny, who chairs a committee of Supervisors monitoring the project, which will include a park and water pollution controls.
Warren County, the Town and the Village of Lake George have until the end of May to reach a decision, said Warren County attorney Paul Dusek.
By then, Requests for Proposals will have been issued soliciting bids for the demolition of some or all buildings.
If the Calvacade of Cars building and the Opera House are omitted from the bids, they will remain standing.
Should the municipalities decide at a later date that the buildings are too costly to repair (the engineering firm of Clark Patterson told the Supervisors that it would cost at least $1.5 million to restore both buildings) the municipalities will have to pay for the demolition themselves
The Opera House, which Warren County Superintendent of Public Works Bill Lamy characterized as “not safe” and structurally unsound, was expected to be designated for destruction by the Warren County Board of Supervisors at its February meeting.
In fact, a resolution had been drafted for the Supervisors to approve agreeing to the demolition of the Opera House.
Instead, and despite Lamy’s analysis, the Supervisors voted to retain both buildings.
That decision pleased Lake George Supervisor Frank McCoy, the director of the Lake George Chamber of Commerce and local businessmen like John Carr, who told the Board, “these buildings are usable.”
The vote dismayed Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais and several Lake George residents and business owners, including Lake George Steamboat Company president Bill Dow, who favor the demolition of the buildings. [Ed. – Read comments from two residents, Betty Spinelli and Joe Stanek, at the Lake George Mirror].
Dow, Fort William Henry Corporation president Bob Flacke and the Lake George Citizens group prefer a plan presented by Mayor Blais at another meeting of county supervisors, held a week later.
Blais argued that both buildings should be demolished.
“Four engineering studies have indicated that the costs to renovate the buildings into usable meeting space is extensive,” he said.
The open space should be used for parking, at least until a study has been undertaken that would identify the best use for the site. If the study recommended the construction of a new building or a pavilion, grants could be sought, said Blais.
Lake George Village has been awarded approximately $4.5 million in grants for similar projects in recent years, Blais said.
Regardless of the county’s decision about the Gaslight Village buildings, demolition of Charley’s Saloon on the parcel south of West Brook will start in mid-June, following the conclusion of Americade.
“New York State’s Department of Transportation will contribute the first $600,00 toward the construction of a storm water treatment complex on the historical wetlands, but the construction schedule has to coincide with work DOT is planning for Route Nine,” explained Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George.
According to Bauer, the demolition will be completed by mid-summer; construction of the storm water management complex will begin after the Adirondack Nationals Car Show in early September.
Kenny’s committee held a public hearing on to solicit opinion about the future of the Opera House and the Calvacade of Cars buildings on March 22.
It will meet again on April 12 before making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.
Among theme-park historians Arto Monaco is a legend. The work of Monaco in designing the area’s theme parks has become a central part of the history of tourism in the Adirondacks. His creations have been found in the defunct Old McDonald’s Farm (Lake Placid), The Land of Makebelieve (Upper Jay), Gaslight Village (Pottersville and then Lake George), and Frontier Town (North Hudson), at Storytown (now the corporate Great Escape) and Santa’s Workshop in Wilmington (the last of a breed and a spot that made our Seven Human-Made Wonders of the Adirondacks). Monaco was a local artist who designed sets for MGM and Warner Brothers, a fake German village in the Arizona desert to train World War II soldiers, and later his own Land of Makebelieve. Monaco died in 2005, but not before the Arto Monaco Historical Society (AMHS) was organized (in 2004) in order to preserve and perpetuate Monaco’s legacy, assemble a collection of his work, and stabilize and restore the Land of Makebelieve which was closed in 1979 after the Ausable River flooded the park for the eleventh time.
Since they first went into the woods with tools in 2006, volunteers of the AMHS have hacked the now overgrown Land of Makebelieve out of the encroaching forests in hopes of saving what’s left of Monaco’s legacy there from the ravages of nature.
On Saturday, September 26, the AMHS will hold its 2009 Annual Meeting followed by a another work session at the former Land of Makebelieve site from 1 to 4 pm. The morning meeting will be held at Paul Johnson’s Bakery, on Route 9N one mile south of the Upper Jay bridge. Lunch is available for those who stay for the afternoon work session. To RSVP, or for information on the upcoming work day or volunteering for the AMHS in general, contact them through their website at http://www.artomonaco.org/.
Photo: The Land of Makebelieve in 2006 before volunteers began work on the abandoned theme park.
Those traveling on the Adirondack Northway (I-87) between Exits 26 and 27 probably don’t realize they are passing literally over Pottersville, the northern Warren County hamlet that borders lower Schroon Lake. From the 1870s into the early 1960s the tiny village was home to amusements that drew thousands. The most remarkable of them, the Pottersville Fair, drew 7,000 on a single day in 1913. Later it hosted a large dance hall, roller skating rink, and the Glendale Drive-in, while nearby Under the Maples on Echo Lake was host to circus acts and an amusement park that was a forerunner of Gaslight Village. Today only the long abandoned Drive-in screen remains, a silent sentinel to Pottersville’s past as an amusement Mecca. It’s no surprise that the tiny hamlet could host such remarkable amusements. The Town of Chester was on the early stage coach road north of Warrensburgh and Caldwell (as Lake George was then known). It was home to two main villages, Chestertown and Pottersville, and several smaller ones (Starbuckville, Darrowsville, Igerna, Riverside – now Riparius, and Haysburg). In the years after the Civil War Chester became a center for summer visitors and hotels and boarding houses sprung up to welcome them. Early travelers made their way from the D & H Railroad to Riverside (where the first suspension bridge across the Hudson River was built) and then by coach to Chestertown, Pottersville, and Schroon Lake. From a dock at the south end of Schroon small steamers plied the lake. Numerous summer camps were established for children and adults in and around Pottersville. Cottages, colonies, and motels were added with the coming of motor transportation – until recently the Wells’ House was a stop on the Adirondack Trailways bus line. It was all ended with the construction of the Adirondack Northway which diverted traffic over the historic hamlet.
Undoubtedly early religious camp meetings were held at the grove where The Pottersville Fair was established by the Faxon family in 1877. The Faxons were the town’s leading industrial family, owner of Chester’s largest employer, a tannery. The fair was immediately popular, not so much for its agricultural exhibits – there generally weren’t any – but for its gambling opportunities. For thirty years gambling was the main attraction at the fair, and horse racing the main event. In 1897, the fair advertised “a fine program of races consisting of trotting and pacing, running, bicycle, and foot races in which liberal purses and prizes are offered.”
By 1906 anti-gambling forces were applying pressure and the Ticonderoga Sentinel reported that year that “The fair in Pottersville drew good crowds, the feature being the horse races. There were no exhibits made.” “It is the purpose of the management,” the paper suggested “to reorganize the Glendale Union Agricultural Society and devote the exhibition entirely to sports, giving large purses for the racing events.”
The anti-gambling crusade was part of a larger backlash against the free-spirited Gay Nineties. Throughout the country society’s moral guardians railed against the liberties and license of the period and chief among them was drinking and gambling. The heaviest attacks were leveled at the racetracks like the Glendale. Newspapers depicted horse bettors as dupes of a crooked alliance of track management, bookmakers, owners and politicians who continued to allow horse racing. Across the country state after state made tracks like the Glendale illegal. Only Kentucky, Maryland, and New York refused to join them in outlawing the popular sport. That was until the anti-gambling forces secured one of our own local boys Charles Evans Hughes, born in Glens Falls in 1859, as Governor of New York.
Soon after taking office in 1907 Hughes began pushing a bill to eliminate gambling at the state’s racetracks. Although resistance was formidable, the Agnew-Hart Bill [pdf] passed in June 1908 and it became illegal to openly quote odds, solicit gambling, or stand in a fixed place and record bets. Police detectives worked themselves into the crowds at the tracks and arrested those violating the law, the penalty for which was jail. The result was the near death of horse-racing in New York – including at the Pottersville Fair, although gaming and horsebetting continued there underground. In 1914, for example, it was reported to members of the state legislature that the Pottersville Fair “has long been famous… for the great variety of wide open gambling and lottery schemes.” If you want to read how the whole thing affected the horse racing stock, and more about how horseracing survived, take a look at the Thoroughbred Times “Racing Through the Century: 1911-1920.”
As local citizens and summer tourists began fearing arrest and imprisonment for gambling – they weren’t really there for the horses – gate receipts dropped and the Glendale Union Agricultural Society went bankrupt. In 1910, the Pottersville Fair Association took over the fair. The Ticonderoga Sentinel described the newly reopened fair grounds of 1910:
The Pottersville Fair, it is frankly admitted, is conducted solely for the amusement of its patrons. The exhibits of products of farm and factory, beautiful specimens of feminine handiwork, art subjects and curios found at other fairs are her conspicuous by their absence. The association makes no effort to get them and does not believe that the majority of people who go to the fair want them. Nobody would want them anyhow, for all over the grounds, in the midway, on the race track, on the stage in front of the grandstand, and in the dance hall, there is every minute something doing to amuse and interest the crowd.
In addition to the racing, gaming, dancing, and carnival and stage acts the renewed fair in 1910 featured “an areoplane flight, which is positively guaranteed, and which will mark the first appearance in these parts of an airship.”
In the 1920s the dance hall at what was then called Glendale Park featured dancing every Thursday, 9 pm to 1 am (later expanded to Friday and Saturday as well). Among the bands who played there were Val Jean and His Orchestra, Domino Orchestra, Guy LaPell’s Orchestra, and the James Healey Band. The park’s skating rink was reported in 1945 to be “almost too crowded to skate.” Eventually a drive-in movie theater would be installed. A neighbor of mine who worked in the kitchen at the Glendale reported that the bar there was staffed by seven bartenders at once.
A legacy of the Pottersville Fair was its stable of acrobats and stage shows. Under The Maples, an emerging resort of sorts on Echo Lake just south of the Wells House, carried on the carnival atmosphere with acrobats and tightrope walkers. General amusements were installed at Echo Lake and the new amusement park operated late into the 1950s, eventually under the name Gaslight Village as it still retained much of its Gay Nineties theme. In about 1958 Charley Woods purchased the whole kit and kaboodle and moved it to Lake George where the 1890s were relived until about 1990 at his own Gaslight Village. You can read about that here.
I thought I’d take a look at the history of the one of the more popular Adirondack theme parks – Lake George’s Gaslight Village.
Gaslight Village opened in 1959 and was run by Charley Wood. Charley already owned a number of investments including Holiday House on the shores of Lake George, and Storytown, U.S.A., an amusement park with a Mother Goose rhymes theme (later expanded with Ghost Town, a western boot-hill theme, and Jungle Land, an animal park) which he opened in 1954. He later went on to build the Tiki Resort (now a Howard Johnson’s), a short lived wax museum, Sun Castle resort, and more. » Continue Reading.
This week news broke of a plan for a Aquarium of the Adirondacks – described in their mission statement as a “unique interdisciplinary attraction as the only aquarium facility of its kind to feature species of the Adirondack Region in addition to aquatic exhibits from around the world.”
In smartly keeping one eye on the Adirondack region, the Aquarium hopes to “foster stewardship by merging culture, history and science to promote learning and understanding of the incredible depth of the Adirondack landscape and a broader appreciation and respect for the global world of water.”
Sure the earth is two-thirds water, but only recently has the underwater world around us been truly explored. Only recently, for instance, have we even discovered that America’s Oldest Intact Warship was laying in the south basin of Lake George.
The most important draw we have in the Adirondacks is our natural environment. Developing the Adirondacks as the premier location to experience the natural world is a good idea – the Adirondacks has the potential to be the greatest living natural history center in the east – that’s a sustainable and laudable environmental and economic goal.
Last week the Warren County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a “public” Authority which would use occupancy tax money to purchase the former Gaslight Village (who can resist humming the tune… “Gaslight Village, yesterday’s gone today). The $5.4 million property, owned by the Charles R. Wood Foundation, would be used for another convention center. Back in the day it was a railroad yard up the line from the Lake George [ahem] Spanish Colonial style D & H Train Station:
Back to 1998, the Albany Business journal, bastion of the coporate press and ignoring the more than half million dollar annual shortfall of the Glens Falls Civic Center, reported dutifully in an article entitled ” ‘Tin Box’ is all that’s needed for some conventions” that:
“Economically, the only way our community is going to grow is by lengthening the [tourist] season,” said Robert Blais, mayor of the village of Lake George. “The only way to do that is to make a suitable building to house the organizations we presently have coming to Warren County, as well as others who may want to come here.”
At his urging, Blais said, Warren County recently allocated $100,000 to the project, and a new convention center committee was charged with hiring a firm to conduct a marketing study to determine whether a center is feasible anywhere in the county. The spot favored by many interested in the project is Lake George, which already has proven itself to be a draw for the county.
Then we had:
Delays mean not only lost time, but lost money, however. “Warren County is surely losing millions every year by not having some sort of tin box–a rudimentary, simple convention center,” said William Dutcher, president of Americade Inc., a week-long motorcycle touring rally held in Lake George each year.
Dutcher pointed out that car clubs, motor home clubs, sports-oriented groups and regional conventions all would be attracted to the area if a facility were built to accommodate them.
Well that all worked out well for Blais and now we have the entirely architecturally incongruant and almost utterly useless tin box that’s design draws on Lake George’s lengthy local history of Greco-Roman vernacular architecture – the Lake George Forum – well that’s useless except for the local news fluff pieces on Zambonis, and events like Hockey, Bounce-A-Palooza, Hockey Camp, the Teen Dance and Bounce-A-Palooza Party, Hockey, another Brewfest, another Adirondack Living Show, more Hockey.
And still the convention center cowboys ride on…even in the face of the facts. Metroland this week [get it while it last – they still don’t have permalinks] is featuring a report on the proposed Albany convention center (stand back Jim Coyne):
‘Few cities learn from their own mistakes or the mistakes of any others,” says Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
In January 2005, Sanders became a focal point of frustration for many elected officials with their eyes on projects like the one in Albany, when he authored a highly critical report on the convention industry for the Brookings Institution, a public-policy think tank in Washington, D.C. Sanders found that various factors such as industry consolidation, telecommunication advances and rising energy costs have contributed to a nearly 50-percent drop in convention attendance since the late 1990s. But meanwhile, more than 100 U.S. cities completed or began construction of convention centers, increasing the supply of available exhibit space by more than 50 percent. This growing gap between supply and demand, concluded Sanders, “should give local leaders pause as they consider calls for ever more public investment into the convention business.
Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, who proposed the public authority operate the Civic Center as well as the proposed convention center, said the county could receive word from the state before legislative session wraps up in June.
Glens Falls Mayor Le Roy Akins Jr., Lake George Village Mayor Robert Blais and Town Supervisor Lou Tessier all expressed support for the idea Wednesday.
Blais, however, conditioned his support on the inclusion of the Lake George Forum on the list of venues the public authority could operate, saying he’s concerned the Forum could suffer from competition with the authority-run venues.
“The Forum could suffer from competition” – do you think so Mr. Blais? According to Metroland:
Recently built or expanded convention centers in major cities (and tourist destinations) including Baltimore, San Francisco, St. Louis and Portland, Ore., all have failed to approach the number of booked conventions proposed in their initial feasibility studies, while new facilities scheduled to open in Boston, Omaha, Neb., and various other cities across the nation have struggled to prebook enough events to fulfill expectations. Like gamblers who refuse to leave the table, many of these cities have found themselves locked in one expensive, risky convention-related investment after another as they try to make up for their earlier losses.
Across the nation, the cycle has followed a similar course: New facilities are built when consultants report that the existing facilities are outdated, existing facilities are expanded when consultants determine that the current facilities are no longer adequate (the standard life cycle of a convention center is only 15 to 20 years) and massive hotels are constructed when neither of the two former plans generate the predicted financial windfalls.
So folks… does Warren County join the bandwagon – again? Maybe this time it can have publicy funded classic Adirondack Egyptian architectural details.
UPDATE 4/5/06:Maury Thompson at The Glens Falls Post Star (get it while you can) reports, in one of the most blatant examples of advocacy journalism we’ve seen in a long time, that even though convention centers are in the works for Lake Placid, Plattsburgh, Glens Falls, Lake George, Saratoga Springs, Albany, and who knows where else, well, they are just a good idea. Thompson asked the opposition – well – nothing – they didn’t figure in his idea fair and balanced reporting.
UPDATE 4/24/06: Another entry from the folks at the Post Star – this time from a more balanced Madeline Farbman. The jist? Warren County is moving ahead despite long held desires from the local water quality folks to return the Gaslight Village site to a filtering wetland (get it while you can).